Flash Fiction: The Smells of Fall

by Susan Coleman

The Smells of Fall

‘The Smells of Fall’ by Susan Coleman was a winning entry for the Lean and Mean Flash Fiction challenge organised by

I laid in bed looking up. I had been working so long on Fall arrangements; knitted scarves, mittens, and leafy decorations, that they were all I could see drifting across the white expanse of my bedroom ceiling. On the floor were the left-over scraps of makings. Each one had, at one time, a high purpose but was now nothing more than garbage. I’d clean it all up later, after coffee, after shower, I thought, when I felt more inclined. I got up and headed toward the kitchen.

Fall has a smell; it’s not the same for everyone. My childhood self knew the fall of raked leaves, burning on the curb in front of the apartment building where my family lived. Afterward, real hot chocolate waited inside, where we stood in the kitchen to brush off any stray leaf fragments that remained on our clothes, and mom swept them up off the vinyl floor. We had been jumping into the piles for hours before the burn. The janitors all over the neighborhood were working hard to clean the small yards with big trees, and had to shoo us away when it was time to rake the huge piles that we had tried to destroy, to the curb. The smoke begun, we knew our fun was over for that season of Fall.

My adult self had a more sophisticated aromatic association with Fall. It was potpourri of cinnamon sticks and apples. Candles that bordered on the smell of Christmas, but not quite, and of course pumpkin spice everything. We still had Thanksgiving to get through and the ever up-coming Fall festival.

I began as a young mother with small children, and had helped out at the church Fall festival every year since then, garnering me a status of sorts among the other volunteers. In the first year, I was proud of a sign I had made for a group of started wandering Jew plants that had been donated, selling for a dollar. The sign I made read, “Be ecumenical! Take home a wandering Jew.” I wasn’t sure anyone else got the joke, but I felt I had never been more creative – before or since my first step into the Fall festival hierarchy.

My house remained a messy, chaotic place throughout the duration of the festival preparations, and my family learned patience. Dinners were thrown-together affairs, where “Susie’s surprise” had usually been a once-in-awhile meal, it was almost every night during the Fall. There were strips of this and that in the house where ever you looked. Even though every year I would start out organized and tidy, something always came up that sent the whole works into a free fall of crepe paper, ribbons and yarn, and sometimes cake flour. This year, that something was Mavis Riley.

Mavis Riley. A lovely woman with no sense of urgency in any cell of her body. She’d volunteer with a smile as wide as her face and her conviction was so strong that, initially, you’d think she’d hung the moon and would continue to do so long after harvest. Fall festival was in her blood, she’d say, and we all hung on every word, convinced in a crunch she would be our “go-to” girl.

The festival would be held on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, so the Wednesday before was our only real chance to get everything set up. My team and I had scheduled a meeting at my house the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to go over any last minute issues. Seven women showed up at basically the same time, parking their cars anywhere they could find a spot. My house, remarkably, looked presentable in the rooms they would see. They brought fresh doughnuts, coffee cake and good will. A happy group of women.

Mavis was missing. After insisting, she had been given the job of getting the flour from the grocers at half price, and we were expecting her to come with a car load to distribute. The grocer was the same one we used every year; he and his family attended the church, too, and we relied on him to help us with the cost of making the cakes. The women and I sat around chatting for half an hour before someone said, “Where’s Mavis? I haven’t received any flour from her yet.”

A murmur went around the room; apparently no one had their flour. I picked up my cell phone and went into the kitchen to call her. It rang and rang; no answer. I went back into the family room, where everyone looked at me expectantly.

“She’s not answering. Maybe she got held up and is one her way.”

We continued with pleasantries, but after another fifteen minutes went by and still no Mavis, we were becoming concerned.

“Has anyone even seen Mavis lately?”

“I saw her last week. She was in her van with Bob, the grocer, I think, and heading toward the highway. I didn’t think anything of it, but I didn’t see her in church this morning either.” This came from Fran, my next door neighbor.

“I have Bob’s home number. I’ll call him.” The phone rang and eventually, Bob’s wife Mary came on the line.


“Hi Mary. This is Pat. Could I speak to Bob please? We were wondering about the flour for the Fall festival.”

There was silence on the other end, then “Bob’s not here. He and Mavis left together last week and I don’t know where he is. Can’t talk right now.” The line went dead.

I turned to the group. “The cake walk will not be held this year after all, ladies. There’s been a snag in the flour delivery. The baker, the grocer, and the flour too, I think, have gone down the highway.”

The Fall festival was held, sans cake walk. The baking ladies made candies instead; homemade gumdrops and five-minute fudge. New Fall smells added to the memory odors of burning leaves, cinnamon sticks and pumpkin everything.

About the author

Susan Coleman was born and raised in Chicago where, in sixth grade, she was taught by an nun from Ireland who was an inspiration. The nun’s merriment over  Susan’s written assignments were infectious and has been writing ever since. A story about this nun resides on her website entitled “My Sister Mary Story.” (

Susan’s education has never been focused on writing, but while studying to be a paralegal, she found research and writing to be her favorite subject. Whatever subject she took, she wanted to write about it.

She studies people, their reactions to events in their lives, how their joy expressed itself and how sadness was often overwhelming. She has taken psychology classes to understand human nature, and tries to recreate these emotions in the stories she writes.”

Susan has three publications to her credit:
(1) A story for the now discontinued magazine Dogwood Tales, called “Gone Visiting.” It was inspired by her father, who had been placed in a nursing home. The story is dedicated to him.
(2) An Amazon’s Kindle ebook: “Allegheny Shade.” (2014)
(3) An Amazon’s Kindle ebook: “Surviving Nathan: A Murder Mystery set in the Dust Bowl.” (2017)
Susan is currently working on her third novel, and short stories

Other publications by Susan Coleman to Flashes:

Where’s Danny Boy
Smile Though Your Heart Is Breaking
Beulah Bean
Because I’m Insane
Interview with Susan Coleman

Show More


Created in 2014, Flashes is a privately owned literary website. We publish short stories, non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry. Our goal is to give talented writers a platform to showcase their creativity, with an emphasis on original voice, innovative style and challenging plots.
Check Also
Back to top button